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Atractaspis engaddensis.jpg
Atractaspis engaddensis
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Superfamily: Elapoidea
Family: Atractaspididae
Günther, 1858
  • Aparallactinae

The Atractaspididae (atractaspidids) are a family of venomous snakes[1] found in Africa and the Middle East, commonly called mole vipers, stiletto snakes, or burrowing asps. Currently, 12 genera are recognized.[2]


This family includes many genera formerly classed in other families and subfamilies, on the basis of fang type. It includes fangless (aglyphous), rear-fanged (opisthoglyphous), fixed-fanged (proteroglyphous), and viper-like (solenoglyphous) species. Early molecular and physiological data linking this subfamily to others were ambiguous and often contradictory, which means the taxonomy of this subfamily has been highly contentious. The nominate family, Atractaspididae, has itself been moved to and from other taxa, such as potentially forming a trichotomy with Elapidae and Colubridae,[3] reinforcing the ambiguity of this subfamily.

Geographic range[edit]

This subfamily is found in Africa and the Middle East.[4][5][6][7]


Many of these snakes are inoffensive or far too small to envenomate a person effectively. However, some can inflict severe tissue necrosis; e.g. if the victim's thumb is bitten, the tip of that digit may be lost. Relapses may occur long after the bite.[8][9]

Very few deaths have resulted from accidents with these snakes, although large individuals of Atractaspis microlepidota and other long-glanded species are very likely to be dangerous.[10] Some of the long-fanged species are able to stab their prey (or an unfortunate human) even while their mouths are closed, and the typical grasp used by herpetologists to securely hold venomous snakes is not safe for this group.[11][12] This ability to stab sideways even with a closed mouth is the basis for an English name used for some of them: "side-stabbing snakes" or "side-stabbers".[5]


Subfamily Atractaspidinae -- 13 Genera
Genus[2] Taxon author[2] Species
Common name Geographic range
Amblyodipsas W. Peters, 1857 9 glossy snakes Africa
Aparallactus A. Smith, 1849 11 centipede-eaters Africa
Atractaspis A. Smith, 1849 15 burrowing asps, stiletto snakes[2] Africa, Middle-East
Brachyophis Mocquard, 1888 1 Revoil's short snake Africa
Chilorhinophis F. Werner, 1907 3 Africa
Hypoptophis Boulenger, 1908 1 African bighead snake Africa
Homoroselaps[13] Jan, 1858 2 harlequin snakes Southern Africa
Macrelaps Boulenger, 1896 1 Natal black snake Africa
Micrelaps Boettger, 1880 4 two-headed snakes Africa, Middle-East
Poecilopholis Boulenger, 1903 1 Cameroon racer Africa
Polemon Jan, 1858 13 snake-eaters Africa
Xenocalamus Günther, 1868 5 quill-snouted snakes Africa


This family was previously classified as a subfamily of the Colubridae: the Aparallactinae.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pyron, R. Alexander; et al. (2011). "The phylogeny of advanced snakes (Colubroidea), with discovery of a new subfamily and comparison of support methods for likelihood trees" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 58 (2): 329–342. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.11.006. PMID 21074626. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Atractaspididae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  3. ^ Jackson, Kate (March 2003). "The evolution of venom-delivery systems in snakes". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 137 (3): 337–354. doi:10.1046/j.1096-3642.2003.00052.x. S2CID 22522675. Retrieved 17 December 2022.
  4. ^ a b Mehrtens JM. 1987. Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. 480 pp. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
  5. ^ a b Spawls S, Branch B. 1995. The Dangerous Snakes of Africa. Ralph Curtis Books. Dubai: Oriental Press. 192 pp. ISBN 0-88359-029-8.
  6. ^ Parker HW, Grandison AGC. 1977. Snakes -- a natural history. Second Edition. British Museum (Natural History) and Cornell University Press. 108 pp. 16 plates. LCCCN 76-54625. ISBN 0-8014-1095-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-8014-9164-9 (paper).
  7. ^ Margres, Mark J; Aronow, Karalyn; Loyacano, Jacob; Rokyta, Darin R (2013). "The venom-gland transcriptome of the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) reveals high venom complexity in the intragenomic evolution of venoms". BMC Genomics. 14 (1): 531. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-531. ISSN 1471-2164. PMC 3750283. PMID 23915248.
  8. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "I Was Bitten - Flesh Eating Snakebite". YouTube.
  9. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Stiletto Snake". YouTube.
  10. ^ Atractaspididae at the TIGR Reptile Database
  11. ^ Kurnik Haviv and Kochva (1999). A snake bite by the burrowing asp, Atractaspis engaddensis. Toxicon 37(1): 223-227.
  12. ^ Deufel and Cundall (2003). Feeding in Atractaspis (Serpentes: Atractaspididae): a study in conflicting functional constraints. Zoology 106: 43-61.
  13. ^ "Search results | the Reptile Database".

External links[edit]